Raising safe food and being concerned about the well-being of livestock is at the core of every hog producer’s mission. That mission matches with the demands of today’s consuming public.
To ensure that consumer demands are being met, retail and food service customers are asking that their suppliers be able to guarantee the animals are indeed being raised humanely. In turn, the packers and processors are asking their suppliers — hog producers — to certify that the animals in their care are being raised in the best ways possible.
A growing number of meat packers request that livestock producers undergo an audit of the production practices taking place on the farm; some companies are even employing their own auditors. In addition to some packers having their own auditors, there also are auditing companies that offer third-party audits of farm facilities and practices. In the past, each entity might have different requirements for producers.
Knowing the great responsibility that pork producers have to assure consumers that the animal protein on their table has been raised in the best conditions possible, the National Pork Board set out to develop a Common Swine Industry Audit. In 2013, a task force of industry stakeholders — producers, veterinarians, animal scientists, packers, processors, and retail and food service representatives — was tasked with developing a workable, credible and affordable common on-farm audit system for the swine industry. The CSIA, certified by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization in October 2014, establishes the detailed criteria which demonstrate that any on-farm swine audit must be comprehensive and credible. Though PAACO certified the CSIA more than two years ago, the common audit is a flexible framework that continues to evolve, demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.
As auditors are being trained to use the CSIA audit tool, it also behooves producers to familiarize themselves with what is being asked of them should their hog operation be faced with an audit. The simple answer is producers should already be doing what they are expected to prove or display during an audit — and they are.
Producers should be Pork Quality Assurance Plus certified; the CSIA builds on the existing PQA Plus program and expands it to serve as a single, common audit platform for the pork industry.
“PQA Plus is a voluntary program offered by the pork checkoff. However, most major packers do require that producers that supply to them participate in the program whether that’s in certification and/or the on-farm site assessment,” says Sherrie Webb, National Pork Board director of animal welfare. Webb says the same is true for the Transport Quality Assurance program, which is also voluntary, but a lot of packers “require that if you deliver pigs to their plant, that you be certified in the program.”
The CSIA builds on the PQA Plus program, as auditors use a “score sheet” to tally how the hog operation measures up in four main areas:
■ animal handling and benchmarking
■ facilities and transport
Producers earn a specific number of points for most of the questions that an auditor is instructed to ask during the on-site assessment. Highest point value questions or observations (10 points and 5 points possible) pertain to key animal welfare criteria. For example, if the auditor observes that animals are being handled appropriately for their age, the site is awarded 10 points. If the auditor observes that the pigs are not being handled appropriately for their age, the site gets zero points. No partial points are awarded for questions.
Though also important in the operation of a successful hog farm, questions pertaining to records and pork safety are worth less points. For example, if a caretaker or manager can show the auditor a written standard operating procedure for animal handling procedures specific for the site, they are awarded 2 points. The NPB has lots of CSIA information on its website to help producers prepare for an audit, including templates to help them build their own SOPs.
Five questions on the audit form pertaining to animal welfare are considered “critical” and carry no point values; rather the site receives a “pass” or a “fail.”
1. Were any willful acts of abuse or neglect observed during the audit? Obviously, the acceptable answer is “no” to get a “pass.”
2. Are animals euthanized in a timely manner? Yes, pass.
3. If euthanasia is observed, are animals handled humanely during the process? Yes, pass. If euthanasia is not observed, auditor records as such, and the site doesn’t get credit or get docked.
4. If euthanasia is observed, are animals euthanized in place or is suitable equipment available to move non-ambulatory animals so they can be humanely euthanized? Yes, pass; or not observed.
5. If euthanasia is observed, do caretakers confirm insensibility and death after the euthanasia method is applied and before being removed from the facility? Yes, pass; or not observed.
“PQA and TQA are meant to be educational and help drive continuous improvement, while the CSIA is a tool that helps verify practices and procedures that are happening on the farm using a third party,” Webb says.
CSIA task force members meet annually to review any feedback that they’ve received on the audit to determine if any changes need to be made to the audit, and “they just finished their third iteration of the audit” that will be released in January, Webb says, adding that a lot of the changes made this time are clarifications. “When put into practice on the farm, the original audit standards and questions left some ambiguity and created some confusion, so many of the edits they made for this next version are an effort to clarify some of those issues that have come up in the field.”
In development of the audit and the audit tool, the task force defined all aspects that were felt to be important to be identified on the farm. Out of that list, Webb says, “they designated things that were critical that must absolutely be happening on the farm. That’s how they came up with the critical points of animal abuse and humane euthanasia.”
After the critical points, the task force identified items that had direct immediate impact on the well-being of the animal, and those are your animal-based measures, thus receiving the highest weighting in points. “That’s why they’re important, because they’re looking at the animal and evaluating their well-being,” Webb says.
Task force members then identified the next tier of factors, ones that have an indirect impact on the welfare of the animals — those being facilities and caretakers. “They influence and can have an impact the animal’s well-being, but it’s more indirectly,” she says.
The last category, including records, is made up of important factors from an overall welfare assurance system, but they don’t necessarily have a direct or indirect impact on the pig’s day-to-day life. “Records are important to demonstrate what is going on day to day on the farm, but ultimately it’s the care that the pig receives” that’s the most important, she says.
Another indicator that PQA Plus and the CSIA are intertwined, Webb says the site assessment in the latest version of PQA Plus that was released this past June now models the audit, so producers are encouraged to use the PQA Plus site assessment tool to “test run” what they may face in an on-site audit.
Since recordkeeping may not be the forte of most hog producers, the NPB website offers templates for most of the records that are called for in the audit. Webb says early in 2017 mini-modules will be available on the NPB website, highlighting what the Pork Checkoff Animal Welfare Committee identified as hot-button items discovered in the audits. Webb described these as five-minute modules that explain what the audit standard is, what the auditor will be looking for and how to interact with the auditor when they show up on your farm, “hopefully removing the mystery around the audit,” Webb says.
As with keeping records, hog producers may lack the expertise to write the SOPs the auditors will be looking for while performing an audit. An SOP generator will be available on the NPB website. It allows producers to plug in their basic information and helps them create SOPs for their operation. “For producers who have not written SOPs, this tool helps make the process easier,” Webb says.
All of this information and more can be found on the NPB website at pork.org/common-industry-audit to help producers remove some of the mystery, and possibly fear, of facing an audit.
It’s uncertain if and when every hog operation will undergo an audit. Webb says that today “a good majority” of packers and the larger hog systems have some form of auditing process in place using the CSIA, but she adds that they aren’t requiring every single site be audited each year.
Collette Kaster, executive director of Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization Inc., says the potential of an audit should not catch pork producers off guard. “The CSIA and customer requirements have been widely discussed in producer meetings, and many producers have been active in the development process as well.”
Pork and poultry industries are leading the way in undergoing farm audits, mainly due to the integration of those industries, she says, but those two species industries should not feel singled out. Kaster says all food animal producers will be facing the potential to undergo audits of their operations. “It’s tougher with beef producers because the industry is more segmented than pork and poultry, but both dairy and beef feedlot programs are well under way.”
PAACO is an organization of eight professional animal organizations with expertise on best management practices and current science in animal agriculture. PAACO’s purpose is to promote animal welfare through auditor training and audit certification. Those organizations making up PAACO are the American Association of Avian Pathologists, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Dairy Science Association, American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, American Society of Animal Science, the Poultry Science Association, and most recently, the American Meat Science Association.
Kaster says there will be three to five trainings sessions in 2017 for pork auditors or producers’ lead animal welfare person to become PAACO-certified, as the demand for certified third-party auditors will continue to grow.